The Ink Well Prompt #21: The Last Red Line On Main Street

Image by Moshe Harosh from Pixabay


It was a long run on Main Street for those wanting to uphold the traditions of an oppressive past, but that run ended in complete and necessary tragedy, courtesy of Jean-Paul Philippe Dubois.

Of the Dubois family members that had moved up to Virginia, retired Major Dubois – retired from both the U.S. Army and Interpol with awards and honors that would stack higher than his six-feet-three – was the quietest of all. He was a 52-year-old lifetime chaste bachelor, deeply concerned with his aged parents and not only their needs but their dreams ... they had wanted to restart blessing a community with their food after Hurricane Katrina, but where, and how?

Throughout his Interpol career, Major Dubois had been looking, and, on the finish of his longest and greatest case, he had come to Lofton County, VA, and had found the place of his parents' dreams – a strong Black community growing stronger and a need in the total market for good Louisiana cooking. He had assisted his parents in their move with a large portion of their extended family, and after that worked quietly in the family business while also taking on legal work as a service to Lofton County's Black community.

Major Dubois was a brilliant attorney in addition to being a brilliant investigator, and a mortgage from Tinyville's Main Street let him show his skills.

Ever since the end of slavery, banks and mortgage companies across the United States had made covenants with one another that real estate in certain areas was to be off limits to Black people. This was infamously known as “redlining” – and into 2020, Main Street in Tinyville, VA was one of Virginia's last remaining explicit red lines.

The red line had stayed the same because of unspoken agreements in Lofton County: those who had received such mortgage contracts had agreed to keep the secret a secret. They also did their best to sell their houses through an informal network of trusted associates.

But then, the financial crisis in 2008 broke the informal network. One of Lofton County's most racist, reactionary banks – Cornerstone Bank – stepped in and bought all those foreclosures at a loss, and held the line … at massive loss, year after year, because there were other covenants to consider. The houses on Main Street had to be kept in their grand 19th century Victorian style, and Cornerstone Bank had to pay for that until it could sell those houses.

Meanwhile, in early 2020, Major Dubois received the case from Black billionaire and Tinyville native Thomas Stepforth Jr., and set to work.

Cornerstone Bank fell to the oldest civil rights trick in the book: Major Dubois hired several of his white Army friends to apply for those houses on Main Street, and they had brought the mortgages back to him. Each had the covenants that had been illegal for decades, each mortgage stating plainly that the property was not to be sold to persons of any descent other than Anglo-Saxon, and specifically not of Negro descent.

Meanwhile, Mr. Stepforth had already managed the process of putting test cases together: several members of the Black community with excellent credit and income had come through in expressing interest in the homes in 2019. They had been turned away, and various reasons found for doing so … but now, Major Dubois had the mortgages, and the test case clients entered the case as the plaintiffs.

Next step: Mr. Stepforth's contacts found some pre-Cornerstone mortgages to compare with the newer ones – the older mortgages had similar language, but it had been struck through, which meant it was no longer operational … just there as a quiet, tacit hint to the game being played. Cornerstone Bank had brought the covenants out of strikethrough, in direct defiance of all relevant law.

Next step: Major Dubois assembled – at least on paper – a stunning legal team to make the point that killing him was not going to do any good. By no means could the plaintiffs in the case afford that kind of team, but the idea was to show the Black community as a whole was willing to pay whoever they needed to pay to break the last red line.

In reality, Major Dubois had negotiated a small retainer to each of those lawyers and law firms to come on board long enough to be mentioned in the filing, and he had indeed consulted each of them and many more so that when Tinyville and Cornerstone Bank went looking for representation, the best lawyers would ALL have to say they had been consulted or retained by the plaintiffs, and so could not represent either the town or the bank!

Next step: Major Dubois came on Zoom at the Tinyville City Council meeting and shrewdly maneuvered council members into making their complicity in what Cornerstone Bank had been doing a matter of public record.

Next step: Major Dubois filed lawsuits against Tinyville and Cornerstone Bank in federal court for housing discrimination, for a combined $1 billion. Not that the case was worth quite that much, but Major Dubois knew that under the economic conditions created by Covid-19, a $100 million judgment would bankrupt Tinyville and just a quarter of that would break ailing Cornerstone Bank.

When your opponent in a case you cannot win has gone so far as to pick your choice of attorneys for you, the wise give it up. Tinyville at this time had wise leadership; they recognized they had been completely outmaneuvered and were ready to settle. Cornerstone Bank had George Peale-Lofton, whom both time and wisdom had passed by, but the powers that be leaned on him, and so the attorneys set up a meeting with Major Dubois to see if common ground could be reached.

George Peale-Lofton could have dealt with any of the big lawyers he knew of in the filing of the plaintiffs, but he lost it entirely when he saw, tall, very dark, and handsome Major Dubois on his unhurried march down Main Street with his briefcase, and realized that he and the whole town of Tinyville had been outwitted by this unmistakably, unforgivably Black man in flourishing middle age … old enough to have had a father or uncle killed in Main Street for even looking the wrong way at a Peale-Lofton in the early 70s.

“I'm not going to let these [insert unholy racial slur here] have this street!” he snarled.

“Just hold on – just hold on!” his lawyer said. “Let's just see what he wants first.”

“They want the street – they want this country – they want to take the best of everything and leave us with nothing! Why don't you weak youngsters understand!”

“Let's just see, Mr. Peale-Lofton. Just calm down, and let's just see!”

Laptops, Zoom, and separate rooms for mediation as always – Major Dubois made himself comfortable and waited … down the hall, he could hear Mr. Peale-Lofton still fussing, just vexed to his depth of his racist soul. Major Dubois smiled at this before putting on his most stern face for the camera.

“My time is valuable, Counselors,” he said when at last the defendants' attorneys got on the Zoom call. “My clients and I are not impressed with your tardiness.”

“We apologize, Counselor,” said the defendants' attorneys. “We had to confer with our clients.”

Thus began the negotiation process, which began with the money demanded as if that were the key thing. Yet it was mere theater, an opening act before the main event, which commenced just as soon as Major Dubois said, “My clients may be amenable to that amount, provided the illegal and discriminatory covenants are completely removed from all mortgage contracts offered by Cornerstone Bank, and the appropriate anti-discriminatory language is added to the city –.”

“We're not giving Main Street to you [insert unholy racial slur here]! You hear me! We're not –!”

George Peale-Lofton's red face and spit filled the laptop screen as he grabbed the laptop – and then he recalled where the table leg was by tripping over it, leading to his face smashing up against the laptop screen before the Zoom call abruptly ended. Major Dubois's ears told him of the continuing destruction of court property – the laptop, the table, maybe a chair or two.

After that, a shouting match began in earnest, with enough profanity and obscenity to remind the major of his Army days. Yet it ended as only it could.

“Yes, you are going to sign off on removing those covenants if you want to have permits to operate in this town – Tinyville is not about to go bankrupt over you, George!”

Two minutes later, the counsel for the defendants rejoined the Zoom on their cell phones and agreed to the removal of the racist covenants from Cornerstone Bank's mortgage contracts and the addition of the necessary non-discriminatory language to the city charter.

Ten minutes later, Jean-Paul Philippe Dubois stood in the sunshine at the top of the courthouse stairs, at the corner of Main and Court Streets, knowing that the 110-year struggle to break one of the last of Virginia's red lines was now complete.



George Peale-Lofton was running down the courthouse hallway, wildly swinging a table leg, the defendants' attorneys chasing him and shouting a warning to Major Dubois, who calmly stepped out of his assailant's way at the appropriate moment.

Two minutes later, the last red line on Main Street completed running down the courthouse's granite stairs and flowed across the sidewalk into the drain at the corner of Main and Court streets.

Cornerstone Bank would die as suddenly and shockingly as its owner had. Meanwhile, Tinyville settled with Major Dubois' clients and changed the town's charter as the major directed.

That had been the major's plan, all along.

“I kept in mind that the ultimate goal was to make Tinyville change its charter, and to use George Peale-Lofton and his undisciplined racism as a lever. Once his bank's mortgages were exposed, he and his bank became a liability – he did not realize that Tinyville's actual red line for Main Street was its maintenance covenants for the Main Street houses.

“No Black person in their right mind would sign up to be enslaved to Tinyville just to prove a point about a house on Main Street – no one of any race has bought a house for 12 years, and Tinyville was simply taking Mr. Peale-Lofton's money until I made the cost too high for them to work together.

“Of course, at the end, Tinyville would have been fully content to have both Mr. Peale-Lofton and I die on the courthouse steps. None of Tinyville's attorneys or representatives attempted to stop Mr. Peale-Lofton with the table leg. His attorneys, good and decent men, called out to warn me. Not that I needed the warning. His behavior was predictable, and of course I had already done my tactical planning.

“So: I am alive and well, Tinyville has surrendered, and Mr. Peale-Lofton's legacy is exactly what he wanted. He is the author of the last red line on Main Street – at least until the power washers get back to the corner of Main and Court.”

3 columns
2 columns
1 column